Derek Gentile: Masahiro Tanaka's arm is an old 25
I was thinking Friday about Yankee pitcher Masahiro Tanaka's numbers.
No, not his contract, which is $155 million for seven years. That's just what the market will bear. If people still gasp when they hear these kinds of figures, they haven't been following baseball too closely.
And I'm not really thinking about his age, which is 25.
The numbers I'm thinking of are 1,315 and seven, and 359 and two.
Those numbers represent the number of innings (1,315) he's pitched in his first seven years. And the number of innings (359) he pitched in his first two seasons.
In case you're wondering, that's a lot of innings.
For example, Bret Saberhagen, who played for various teams, including the Red Sox for 16 years, pitched 1,462 innings his first seven years, a prodigious amount. Over his next eight, he pitched exactly 1,100.
Similarly, Dwight Gooden threw an eye-popping 1,521 innings after seven years, and was 119-42 in that span. He was 69-70 over the rest of his career, a total of nine years, and threw 1,269 innings.
I could cite other stats, but a quick look at several other long-term pitchers reveals that the basic timeline for the potential durability of a pitcher who starts young is about seven years.
In that vein, a majority of the Japanese pitchers who come over to play in the bigs, by the time they've played for as long as Tanaka has, have been pitching a lot of innings for years and years.
This isn't wrong or bad. It reflects the Japanese philosophy of leaving a pitcher in well into the late innings, a tendency to let a starter finish a game, as well as a Japanese manager's decision to use starters as closers.
Also, Japanese pitchers get fewer starts during their seasons, which are shorter. So that's kind of a bonus that helps even out their workload.
As an aside, I didn't cite Daisuke Matsuzaka as a pitcher who had shouldered a heavy load when he played in Japan. That is accurate, but I've always thought Matsuzaka's hip issues stemming from when he participated in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, were a bigger factor in his overall demise.
And unfortunately, he opted not to tell his coaches and trainers about this, which obviously didn't help.
I believe Tanaka will be outstanding for the Yankees next year. His presence in the lineup is a huge upgrade for the New Yorkers. If you enjoy baseball, adding this pitcher to the AL mix should make things very interesting.
And he may well perform well in 2015 and beyond. He's a big guy at 6-2, has a nice array of pitches and it's not set in stone that he will struggle after a few years in the majors.
In fact, Yu Darvish, who had an equally hefty workload as a Japanese pitcher, has done very well so far for the Texas Rangers. He was runner-up for the Cy Young award last year.
The Yankees have such a prodigious revenue stream that it's hard for them to overpay anyone. And if Tanaka leads New York to the World Series, he will be worth it. My philosophy is that a championship is always worth whatever a team pays out. The rings are the ultimate trump card.
But this is a cautionary tale. I think Tanaka's arm is an old 25. I also think he could struggle after a few years. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. We'll see.
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